After decades of hiding herself, Elizabeth shares her childhood trauma.

By Mary Sollosi
December 30, 2020 at 10:00 PM EST
Advertisement
Credit: Bravo
type
  • TV Show
network
  • Bravo
genre

If you thought last week’s first glimpse of Elizabeth’s trailside panic attack was shocking, buckle up.

Picking up right where we left off, the latest episode begins with Elizabeth and Braunwyn on a hike in Lake Arrowhead, the former opening up for the first time about her experience growing up in a religious cult and how that trauma has reverberated throughout her life — even as she tried to shut herself off from it with a wall of cash and Ferraris.

Say what you will about Braunwyn (everyone else does), but she was the perfect person to be on the receiving end of this revelation. She has both the demeanor and the vocabulary to make Elizabeth feel safe to start sharing; nothing can shock her. “This is your story to tell,” Braunwyn assures her. “It’s okay to tell your story.”

Tell it Elizabeth does: Until she was 13, she grew up in a religious cult of which her grandmother was the head, and her father one of the main preachers. What she wore, what she ate, where she went — everything was controlled by the church. Even as a kid, she sensed the situation was not right, but what’s a little girl to do about that? How can children articulate their instincts?

“I was a big talker,” she says with a dry laugh. “Obviously. You know that.” As such, she remembers frequently getting locked in a closet as punishment for getting too chatty with outsiders. Finally, after young Elizabeth revealed too much to a neighbor, her family was kicked out. So, complicating her trauma from the abuse she suffered within the cult is this strange, lingering guilt for having put an end to it. “I carried the burden of feeling I did something wrong my whole life,” she admits in a confessional.

As Braunwyn tells her, though, “You don’t have to live with this for the rest of your life. Now that secret doesn’t have that power anymore” — and Elizabeth does seem relieved to have shared it, if also scared of what sharing it means. “I’m just worried that if I start talking about this, everything that I’ve created, everything that, who I am, is all going to go away,” she admits to the camera. Even her voice sounds different in these confessionals, losing some bravado and the impression that she’s always on the edge of laughing.

Ultimately, the FBI shut down the cult; she invites Braunwyn to go ahead and look it up. “I’m not Googling anything anymore,” Braunwyn replies wearily. Probably smart.

Nearby, Gina and Kelly (assisted by instructor Bonnie, to whom I extend my sincerest sympathies) give their best Lucy and Ethel as they attempt to fish. Unfortunately, even Gina’s dog-rescue community-service expertise isn’t enough to save the first one they reel in, prompting her to reflect, in a confessional, upon the possibility of the existence of a fish heaven. In real-time, however, she only reflects to Kelly: “That’s just f---in’ life, right?”

When Braunwyn and Elizabeth join them, they quickly recap Elizabeth’s news. Gina, bless her, knows how to ask a straightforward question, and when she does, Elizabeth sheds more light on the horrors she suffered: She was molested, many times and “by many situations.” She had a crush on a neighbor boy, and her informing on the cult happened in the form of her sharing with him the way she’d been treated. “I never knew any different. I thought that’s what [people] did to kids,” she says in a quietly heartbreaking moment, still somehow trying to explain herself for having committed the “betrayal” that ultimately rescued her.

Just as Elizabeth concludes that she feels better for having talked about it, her line pulls. Amid yelps from the group, she reels in a tiny fish, and Gina releases it — mercifully still alive — back into the lake.

It feels weird to launch into the rest of the episode after such a heavy tale, but launch we must. The rest of the hour revolves, once again, primarily around the pandemic. Toward the end of their trip, the ladies find out that Shannon has tested positive, and John’s not looking great either. “This is the worst news I’ve ever heard. It’s killing my vibes,” says Kelly, who, despite having been told by some Marines (?) that her O-positive blood type is “bulletproof” (???), will have to cancel her wedding-planning trip to Napa. (Coincidentally, the wedding date she is determined to keep is the same as RHOA’s Cynthia’s: 10/10/2020.)  As a panicked Braunwyn, bad-vibes Kelly, and emotionally spent Elizabeth pack up, our Lake Arrowhead Greek chorus Gina summarizes: “Looks like we’re probably not going to have another girls trip for a long time.” Right you are, Gina.

Back in the OC, the vacationing Housewives aren’t the only ones having a homecoming. Shannon has to go back to her own house; she’s been staying at John’s since her kids tested positive, but now that she’s positive too, she has to quarantine away from him. Her three daughters now must pay for the fun they had while home alone, greeted as they are by shrill reprimands about not having put away clothes, washed dishes, or picked up dog poop. Shane, too, heads home after getting out of the hospital, and then confirms Emily’s assessment that he’s almost back to normal with the retort: “And you’re annoying me, so you’re normal too.” Welcome home, Shane!

After her transformative weekend, Elizabeth shares everything with her boyfriend Jimmy and is amazed that, afterward, “he didn’t shun me, he actually just loved me.” Jimmy, who had previously seemed basically sweet but pretty quiet, gets a star-making moment by telling her, with great feeling, “You have an open heart, and that’s the only thing that you can do in this world.” He is not put off by her story at all, but rather inspired by her resilience, and he believes in her power to share that with other people. “I want you to show them that. I want you to be their light.” I am deeply moved. What a week for Elizabeth!

Finally, much as the lake house made her anxious, home is not exactly Braunwyn’s happy place, either. She talked a lot on the trip about her best friend Shari, whom she affectionately calls her “wife,” and admits to Emily (who knows the horrors of COVID but is unmasked?!) at the end of the episode that Sean is jealous of how much she leans on Shari instead of him. “If he doesn’t like that, don’t you need to… not do that?” Emily asks, and Braunwyn looks like it genuinely hadn’t occurred to her to try not doing what feels good; after all, she’s already shutting herself off from alcohol, which used to be what felt good.

And that’s not to mention shutting herself off from her true sexuality, which this season is starting to hint at more and more. Braunwyn tells Emily that drinking helped her bury parts of herself she wanted to conceal, but without the haze of alcohol and with the added pressures of quarantine, those pieces are coming to the surface. “I have created this perfect life,” she admits in a confessional. “And I’m not feeling it.”

Related stories:

Episode Recaps

The Real Housewives of Orange County

Bravo turns its cameras on California’s ladies who lunch (and shop, and tan, and get plastic surgery, and bicker…)
type
  • TV Show
seasons
  • 12
rating
genre
status
  • In Season
network
  • Bravo

Comments